Throughout the industrialized world, the rich are getting richer and  the poor and middle class relatively poorer. This trend has accelerated in recent years and there is a broad consensus that severe income inequality undermines the stability of societies. Although tolerance for inequality varies from one country to another, depending on other factors that promote social cohesion, research shows that a crisis or social breakdown is near when the top income decile pockets 65 times as much of the country’s total household income as the bottom tenth. Many countries are at or approaching these dangerous levels of inequality. Worldwide, the wealth differential between the top and bottom tenths of society has long exceeded the level at which a social crisis would be inevitable. 

Growing Risk of Instability  

In advanced the economies over the past several decades, the incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent have grown three times faster than the rest of the population, and the wealth of the top 1 percent is now greater than the combined wealth of the remaining 99 percent. This trend has accelerated rapidly—by 1 percentage point per year—between 2010 and 2015. The bottom 50 percent of the world’s population has less than 1 percent of the total wealth. [1]

The World Economic Forum (WEF), concurring with many other organizations, has described severe income inequality as the biggest risk facing the world. WEF founder Klaus Schwab has observed, “We have too large a disparity in the world; we need more inclusiveness… If we continue to have un-inclusive growth and we continue with the unemployment situation, particularly youth unemployment, our global society is not sustainable.”

The rise of giant tech platforms appears to concentrate wealth even more. Early evidence is Oxfam’s research finding that 8 wealthy individuals own 51% of the world’s wealth (as much as 3.6 billion people). Three of those 8 men are the founders of 3 of the giant tech platforms: Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. If these platforms evolve into the economy’s “digital infrastructure” for the coming Digital Economy, they are likely to funnel the world’s wealth to themselves for decades. 

Taxation and other policies could reduce inequality. Yet, measures such as tax cuts for the rich, shrinking welfare programs in countries such as the US, and business-friendly Supreme Court decisions are making it worse.  


Most Likely Forecast

According to the World Economic Forum’s indices, median income has declined by 2.4 percent between 2008 and 2013 across the 26 advanced economies where data is available. [2]

An analysis shows that the richest five people in the world own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.  According to Oxfam, the richest 1 percent of the global population has more wealth than the remaining 99 percent. [3]

The percentage of global wealth accumulated by the top 1 percent of the population has increased rapidly in recent years, from 44 percent in 2010 to over 50 percent in 2016. 

The TechCast Expert panel estimates that income inequality is likely to produce a global social crisis by about 2024 +/- 1 year. They are also 60 percent confident in this forecast.  


Strategic Implications

The stability of a democracy is based on the shared trust in institutions and belief that decisions made at all levels of government will create an environment of fairness and equality of opportunity. When the wealth distribution gets too far out of line, it undermines that belief. Excessively high levels of inequality have historically destabilized societies and resulted in widespread violence. Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist and entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus has called the growing inequality a “ticking time-bomb.” 

Policies for reducing inequality are relatively well understood and widely supported. For example, the International Monetary Fund has repeatedly encouraged governments to implement a wide variety of inequality-reducing policies.  Despite some evidence that inequality may not have grown as severe as it seems, there is widespread support for policies that would mitigate the problem. [4]

[1] World Economic Forum, Jan 16, 2017

[2] New York Times, Jan 16, 2017

[3] Common Dreams, Jun 12, 2017

[4] International Monetary FundApril 2017

Global Ethics


People Uniting the Globe

A growing number of influential people advocate a new global ethics that could unify people under a common set of values and beliefs. Religions are largely based on common moral principles, corporations profess adherence to ethical codes, and most individuals believe in some set of universal values, ethics and morals. This would be highly significant because religion and spirituality are the most powerful forces governing life, irrespective of geography. A system of global ethics could help to unify the world. 

Numerous organizations, websites, forums, blogs, and publications are devoted to the message of harmony and peace. Examples include the Institute for Global Ethics and the School of Life, which is a global secular organization dedicated to developing emotional intelligence. Religions for Peace  is one of the first organizations to form a large alliance of religious leaders to fight poverty, save nature, and prevent war. The International Association of Religious Freedom  is a century-old organization that meets annually to integrate religious thought and practice. The World Council of Religious Leaders  announced a “Commitment to Global Peace” intended to counter conflict, poverty, and protect the environment.[i]

Major world leaders, including the United Nations and the Dalai Lama, have shown support for rights and freedoms that should be universally observed. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, declared, “All major religious traditions carry basically the same message of love, compassion, and forgiveness … that should be part of our daily lives. But grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” 

Pope Benedict XVI declared that globalization requires a “common code of ethics,” based not only in agreements but in natural law, to combat poverty and ensure peace.  UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson has stated ‘No-one left behind’ is the underlying moral code for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which has been adopted unanimously by 193 Heads of State. [ii]

Developing a broadly accepted ethical code may not be as difficult as it appears. Bioethicist David Resnik identified eight basic ethical principles accepted by most of the world’s societies: [iii]

  • Non-maleficence: Do not harm yourself or other people.
  • Beneficence: Help yourself and other people.
  • Autonomy: Allow rational individuals to make free and informed choices.
  • Justice: Treat people fairly: treat equals equally, unequals unequally.
  • Utility: Maximize the ratio of benefits to harms for all people.
  • Fidelity: Keep your promises and agreements.
  • Honesty: Do not lie, defraud, deceive, or mislead.
  • Privacy: Respect personal privacy and confidentiality.


Human Nature Poses Obstacles

The greatest obstacle to developing a global ethical code is human nature.Many individuals are determined to find faults in other religions out of the belief that theirs is the one true path to salvation. Politicians, and even some religious leaders, often seek to build their own power by playing on their constituents’ fears about other religions. Illiteracy encourages superstition, narrow mindedness, blind faith, and perhaps even terrorism. 

It’s also possible that a common ethical code would constrict individual thoughts and beliefs. It would mean little if not enforced. A universal code might conceivably invite the rise of absolutism on a much wider scale than is now possible. The spread of a global ethical code could inspire opposition by people who feel it threatens their beliefs or positions. This could encourage political instability and growing violence.

Most Likely Forecast

With little to guide a forecast, it is useful to recognize that Bill Halal’s new book, Beyond Knowledge. Bill finds that a “mental/spiritual revolution” to some form of global ethics is almost inevitable if the world hopes to survive the global crises that threaten the planet. A strong majority of the public is fearful that climate change, mass unemployment and other elements of the Global Mega Crisis are heading toward disaster unless the world makes major change in mindset. 

TechCast’s experts suggest that 30 percent of the world’s people will adhere to a common set of ethical principles around 2030, and they have high confidence that this will have a very positive social impact. This seems a reasonable forecast but it could also happen earlier. 


Strategic Implications: A More Peaceful World 

A common global ethics would create the foundation for a functioning world system that contains conflict and promotes well-being.Without a sense of worthy goals and purpose, no community can evolve and survive. Development of a global ethical system may help to provide them.A higher level of global consciousness would make it easier to meet the enormous intersecting crises of climate change, sustainable energy, financial instability, conflict, and war. 

[i]Institute for Global Ethics, Sep 4, 2017School of Life, Sep 4, 2017Religions for Peace, Sep 4, 2017International Association of Religious Freedom, Sep 4, 2017.
[ii]Catholic News Agency, Jul 4, 2016UN, Jan 13, 2016.
[iii]Some Definitions of Key Ethics Concepts